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The Daily Examen

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The Jesuits have played a major role in my post-high school education.  One of the gifts of my time at both Marquette and Gonzaga was learning Ignatian Spirituality. The ability to find God in all things: in nature, in art and music, in other people, has helped to solidify my belief in God and discover how He is at work in my life.

At the heart of Ignatian Spirituality is the daily Examen. The Examen allows us to reflect on the past day in an effort to find God’s presence in our life, seek opportunities to grow through our mistakes, and listen for His guidance for the potential challenges and opportunities of tomorrow. The Examen can be so powerful that Jesuits actually pray it twice a day (at mid-day and night).  That way, if they have a rough morning, they can correct and have a better afternoon.

How Do You Do the Examen?
St. Ignatius of Loyola provides a simple five-step routine for our daily examen. When praying the Examen, you should have a conversation with God and pay special attention to your emotions. One of St. Ignatius’s great insights was how our experienced emotions can help us to detect the presence of the Spirit of God. As I reflect on the day, I pay close attention to the feelings I experienced in relation to events during the day (both good and bad).

Presence of God
I begin by finding a place with limited distractions. I ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as I prepare to look back on my day – to help show the blessings of the day and to reveal the moments were I have fallen short of who God has created me to be. Some days can feel like a blur of activity. On these occasions I ask God to provide clarity and understanding.

Recall and celebrate the blessings
Gratitude is the foundation of our relationship with God. Start by walking through your day noting your joys and delights. Look at the work you did, the people you interacted with: what did you receive from these people? What did you give them? Pay attention to small things—the sights you saw and other seemingly small pleasures. God is in the details.  Remember to pay attention to your emotions. Take a moment to pray in thanksgiving for all of these blessings, especially by name!

Review and recognize failures
Next, I look at the moments in my day when I did not act so well. I start by asking God to fill me with his Spirit to humbly lead me through this difficult soul-searching. I look back at my day and ask the Lord to point out to me the moments when I have failed in big ways or small. The trick is to reflect on these mistakes in a light of improvement, not self-pity. I want to be the best version of myself, as a spouse, a parent, a friend, or a co-worker. This allows me to identify and pray for opportunities for self-growth and improvement.

Ask for forgiveness and healing
If I have sinned, I ask God to forgive me and empower me to do better (often scheduling when I will go to confession next). If I have simply made a mistake, I ask for healing of any harm that I might have caused. I ask for wisdom to discern how l might better handle such tricky moments in the future. Sometimes this can feel overwhelming, especially if I have had a difficult day. On these days, I often need to just focus on one or two important events or feelings from the day and focus my prayer on those moments.

Pray about the next day
Finally, I ask God to show me how tomorrow might go. I imagine the things I will be doing, the people I will see, and the decisions I will need to make. I ask for help and guidance with any moments I foresee that might be difficult. I especially ask for help in moments that tripped me up today – that I might be better tomorrow. If there are others I want to lift up in prayer, I do this to round out my conversation with Christ.

Remember to pray the Examen in a spirit of gratitude. Your life has meaning: you have incredible God-given gifts and talents and God has an amazing plan that entails using those gifts and talents.

Praying Together

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When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them… when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.” 

Like some of you, I have long held prayer as a private thing, to do by myself. Even Jesus goes off to pray by himself.   

That is not what Jesus is saying in this passage. This passage is a reminder that we should not be going through the motions with our faith. Being superficial is what Jesus means by “so that others may see them.”   

We are not excused from praying or sharing our faith in public. We are called to be authentic in our relationship with Christ. Christ didn’t shy away from performing miracles or even praying with others, and neither should we.

I cannot tell you how many times I have shared with someone something I have been struggling with, just to receive an anti-climactic “I’ll pray for you.” I was challenged three years ago to pray intentionally with others. I have seen the change it has made in my relationships. It can change your relationships too. 

Tags: prayer

The Habit of Prayer

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At the start of the confirmation process, I sit down with each of the candidates. One of the first things I ask them to do is lead us in prayer.
I often get a blank stare or a “I don’t know what to say.” I assure them that there is no wrong way to pray, as long as it’s in God or Jesus’ name. Many of us pray daily, some occasionally, and we know from the recent parish survey that many parishioners rarely pray. Why is this? I know for me, my struggles with prayer are rooted in being taught prayers when younger, but not being taught how to talk with God.

The droughts I have had in my faith have resulted in not knowing how to talk with and listen to God. While traditional prayers can be powerful, they need to be part of a larger prayer habit that includes sharing our joys and struggles with God.

This Lent, Fr. Dennis challenged us to daily intentional prayer during Lent. This might seem a little frightening for some of us, so as we prepare for Lent starting this Wednesday, we wanted to share some ways to begin creating a habit of prayer.

Here are a few acronyms that can help give structure to your conversation with God:

  • A.C.T.S. (Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving, and Supplication)
  • P.R.A.Y. (Praise, Repent, Access, and Yield)
  • A.L.T.A.R. (Adore, Love, Thank, Ask, and Receive)

You can look each of these up online to learn these specific prayer structures. Below is a simple process that encompasses all of these prayer methods.

  1. Start by recognizing who God is to you. Whether that is Father, Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier, Lord, Divine Physician, or some combination in your own words. This part of our prayer should express our wonder and awe of the Lord.
  2. After we praise and adore God, we should admit that we are not God. This means acknowledging the moments that we have tried to be a god or pushed God aside, and ask for God’s forgiveness and perseverance.
  3. Next is to give thanks to God for the blessings He continues to shower upon us. After all, everything is a gift from God. Take a few moments to express what you are thankful for today. What went well in your life today? Who was there to help guide you?
  4. Now that we have thanked God for how He is blessing us, we can entrust Him with our intentions. What are you struggling with and need God’s assistance? Remember, God already knows what’s on your heart, but like a friend, He desires for you to share and entrust Him with it. This is also the time to pray for others. Whom do you need to pray for, a friend, a co-worker? Pray for them by name and be specific about the intention.
  5. Finally, spend some time just to be with God. At first, you will be bombarded with distractions, so it will take some time to learn to block those out. But after dedicating time daily to this habit, over a few months or years, you will be able to embrace the silence. We know from Scripture (Elijah) and the Saints (St. Therese of Avila) that it is in this quiet that we can hear God speak to us. You can close your time of prayer with a Hail Mary, Our Father, Glory Be, or other favorite prayer.

Our Challenge for you this week is to start creating the habit of daily prayer. If you do not really pray daily, try just five minutes of prayer. If you already pray daily, are you using that time to intentionally speak to God?

-Andrew Schueller, M.A.T.L.